Clitheroe FC boss Simon Haworth is appreciating a far less turbulent pre-season to the one that greeted him on his appointment at Shawbridge last term.
The former Wales international striker, who won five caps for his nation, walked in to a mass exodus at the Ribble Valley club following the departure of his predecessor Simon Garner.
The 40-year-old was forced to build a squad from scratch having inherited a savagely depleted dressing room yet somehow managed to oversee a successful campaign that pushed the Blues to the cusp of the Evo-Stik First Division North play-off places.
But it is a completely different story this time around as Haworth has been able to avert any further chaos by retaining the bulk of his group.
Chris Thompson, Robbie Bromley, Wes Benjamin, Jacob Davies, Ian Rowlands, Ryan Cattermole, Charlie Russell, Joe Mitchell, Brad Carroll, Kurt Willoughby, Aidan Kirby and Adam Bolton have all stayed on though skipper Danny Brady (FC United), Dimitri Tuanzebe (Droylsden) and Chris Churchman (Hyde United) have departed while Alex Newby is currently training with Chorley with a view to a move.
“It is a big difference from the start of last season,” said Haworth. “From the outside it will obviously feel a little bit more flat compared to my first pre-season because we had a lot going on.
“There was a little bit of insecurity about it all but this year has been about getting 70/80% of the players back and tinkering with the squad. We’ve signed a couple of lads and we know that there’s still a bit more strengthening needed.
“We’re looking at adding one or two more gems to bolster what we’ve already got but there’s no rush. There’s no need for a major rebuild because we were only two points short of the play-offs last season.”
Haworth has added Ryan Ellison to his ranks on a permanent basis after a successful loan spell last season while midfield duo Michael Roddy, formerly of Lincoln City, and Callum Mahoney have also been drafted in. The one-time Wigan Athletic forward has also had to make changes to his backroom staff with LFA Challenge Trophy winning Ashton Athletic boss Ben Kay stepping in to the void left by assistant Gareth Roberts who has moved to Skelmersdale United in hope of prolonging his playing career.
Haworth is pleased with the work that has been done so far during the summer and he feels that the club is capable of bridging that aperture to the top five.
Having missed out by a couple of points last term, Haworth said: “The players have got a season under their belts now so I’m hoping to get 15/20% extra from them. They know the league now and that should hopefully bridge that gap to the play-offs. It’s so much easier because everybody knows one another so it feels seamless.
“There hasn’t been any hangover because we did so well. We were in uncharted territory for much of the season but that experience has made the lads come back with the belief that they can do it.
“They know what it’s all about, they know the division, so there’s a real positivity about the place.
“The league will be wide open like last year but I think it will be stronger. It will be really competitive because the teams that have joined are probably stronger than those that have left it.
“Our target is to be in the top 10. If we can build from there then we’ll hopefully get close to the play-offs.”
Clitheroe began pre-season with a 2-2 draw against Chorley at Shawbridge midweek.
An Ellison volley in the 37th minute and a goal from Carroll in the 77th minute saw the Blues get their noses in front after a bullet header from Jason Walker had given the visitors the lead in the 14th minute.
However, Chorley snatched a draw in the 90th minute through Josh O’Keefe.
The Blues, who travel to Squires Gate on Saturday, have been drawn away at either Billingham Town or Pickering Town in the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup with the tie to be played on August 19th.
They also host Evo-Stik First Division North rivals Colne in the preliminary round of the FA Trophy on October 7th.